I have a little ritual whenever I visit the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show: I visit the Roses and Romance marquee to have a look at the latest Rose of the Year.

I’m secretly in love with roses: I keep trying to give up growing them, as they’re far too romantical-like for my wellies-and-wasabi mental picture of myself as a gardener. But they keep wriggling back in somehow. I’m currently hatching a plan to sneak more in under the guise of being species roses, therefore having hips which are officially Useful.

Anyway: this year, it’s ‘You’re Beautiful’, bred by Graham Fryer: pic above. Very pink, very classic, rather handsome in a Barbara Cartland sort of way: this shade of candy pink isn’t quite my thing but I could see why it won.

However: while I was there I began to notice there is an ominous trend which is creeping into the rosey world. They’ve started breeding grey roses.

This is ‘Grey Dawn’: it’s the colour of faded curtains, or the dresses in BBC costume dramas, or maybe the papery skin of old ladies. This picture makes it look quite nice, but believe me, it’s grey.
I blame the recent unseemly race to breed a true blue rose: it produced a lot of roses they said were blue when in fact they were undeniably lilac. ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was about the closest they got (even David Austin admits it’s purple, but ‘fades to slate blue’ with age). Here’s another one, ‘Blue for You’ (with apologies for the lack of focus):
See what I mean? Lilac.
Luckily the Japanese put an end to all that a few years ago with a bit of genetic engineering injecting a delphinium gene into a rose to make The Blue Rose (still think it’s a bit violet though). But the experiments have left their legacy.
As well as the grey roses, there are brown roses: a wave of washed-out colour that isn’t apricot and isn’t cream and isn’t anything, really. This one reminds me of a properly nice apricot (Apricot Silk, perhaps) smudged down with one of those blues or greys:

It’s ‘Julia’s Rose’: and it’s beige. I like it better than the grey one, but it’s definitely a meh sort of colour.

Part of the problem is that these colours are so hard to place in the border. One of my neighbours has ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ planted among a little mini rose garden outside her house (she’s elderly, so be nice). She’s bang up to date: but that’s the one rosebush that doesn’t look right. It’s weird, out of synch, the wrong colour for roses.

On the other hand, all this messing with what is good and right has had some positive side-effects. Once you go down the brown route, you reach a fork in the road: the poo option is clearly to be avoided, so obviously the only way is chocolate.

And this is where brown roses start to show why they should exist. Just look at this.

It’s ‘Hot Chocolate’, a sumptuous floribunda that justifies all the misguided breeding efforts in the world if the point of them was to lead to this. Yum, yum.